“Especially in this era of COVID-19, with massive, massive increases in child and teen screen time like we’ve never seen before in pediatrics, reducing child and youth access to pornography is crucial, now more than ever,” Dr. Megan Harrison, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent sexual health at Ottawa children’s hospital, told a Senate committee last week.
The committee held its first meeting to review Bill S-203 on April 21. The bill would make it an offence to make sexually explicit material available, for commercial purposes, to minors online.
The bill’s sponsor Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne pointed to the general agreement in Canadian society that access to porn magazines, sex shops and porn films should be reserved for those over the age of 18. Proof of age is required. “Why then should we accept that in a virtual world the same restrictions should not apply?” she asked.
Expert witnesses spoke to the committee about the impact of violent and demeaning pornography on children and youth, and why it’s critical to reduce their access to it.
Dr. Gail Dines of Culture Reframed explained a shift that took place, “As pornography moved online around 2000, not only did it become more hardcore, cruel, violent and abusive to women, but it became universally accessible. It is now just a click away.”
Dr. Harrison summarized research on the effects of viewing pornography on children and youth, such as increased likelihood of engaging in sexual activity at younger ages, adopting views that objectify women and being more likely to engage in casual and risky sex behaviours, along with sexual aggression.
She described how she sees these impacts on the adolescents she sees in her practice. “The teens I see who have accessed these sites, either accidentally or on purpose – and it’s very, very, very easy to do and the images are very disturbing – they have so much confusion about their bodies and what’s expected of them sexually, what is normal, all sorts of things.”
In addition to risky sexual behaviour, Dr. Jocelyn Monsma Selby of Connecting to Protect noted that children’s access to online pornography also fuels self-produced sexual images, child on child sexual abuse, mental health issues and addiction for children, and more.
Dr. Dines describes kids watching violent porn as a form of child abuse. She asked the committee, “How have we reached this point where kids as young as 7 are accessing pornographic materials that show women being sexually abused for commercial purposes? Where are the policy makers and professionals tasked with safeguarding children?”
Another expert witness, Murray Perkins, had worked on the implementation of age verification for online pornography in the U.K. He told the committee that age verification isn’t new. It has been in place for several years in the U.K for online gambling and the sale of restricted products. Perkins believes age verification of online pornography is not only viable, but likely to be successful if implemented. He told the committee, “There can be no doubt that children will be considerably better off because of it.”
Each of these witnesses expressed strong support for Bill S-203.
As Dr. Harrison explained, “Not only would this bill significantly support what health care providers are already trying to practice, it would enhance our ability to do so.” In Dr. Selby’s words, “This bill is crucial because the harm is real and measurable.”
See www.TheEFC.ca/S203 for more information and ways to support the bill.